There are two sides to every story…
Matthew 2: 1-12
If you didn’t see what I saw on the first day of the year you might not believe what I tell you, but it was a bright start to the year!
Before I opened the curtains on New Year’s Day my thoughts and prayers were on a dark and broken world, but then I looked through the window and was reminded how beautiful it is. What a wonderful world!
I hope Louise Armstrong will forgive me in changing his words, but I saw skies so blue and roads all white and in the bright dressed day, from the dark sacred night, I thought to myself: What a wonderful world.
There are two sides to every story, the good and the bad, and what we believe can depend on whether we draw the curtain and look out of the window. It might even depend on whether we raise our head from under the duvet to see the light of a new day or hide away hoping that things will become good if we ignore what is bad.
I am not sure who said it, but, “in seeking the truth you have to get both sides of a story.” The truth under the duvet, or behind the closed curtain, can seem dark until we open our eyes to the opportunities waiting beyond. “Every truth has two sides and it is well to look at both before committing too either!” That was what Aesop, a great Greek storyteller who is well known for Aesops Fables, wrote. Some advice is timeless.
So, today, I am reflecting on the second of two stories and somewhere between Luke and Matthew there is THE truth which will be the WAY to walk leading to new LIFE. Jesus says we will have to walk the WAY to find the TRUTH (John 14: 6) so we have to be doing — looking, listening, hearing — if we want life. Don’t wait for too long for God to do it for you if you’re not doing it for God!
Luke and Matthew tell very different stories about the birth of Jesus, but they are both about people who are motivated and led to do something about the circumstances around them. They are the tea bags of history who change the circumstances around them, but most of us are like potatoes and eggs in boiling water! We are changed, but we don’t make change happen!
What do you do with two stories that are so different that you don’t know what to believe? The truth is somewhere between the two, but as Maggie Thatcher is reported to have said: “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous as you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides!”
We have taken the stories over the years and woven together OUR truth and called it The Nativity, but it might be taking us the wrong way if we are romanticising the story with stars and angels; shepherds and wise men; a journey by donkey for a heavily pregnant woman and a hard hearted innkeeper who ignores her needs. We’ve taken two stories and written a truth the world seems to like and tell again and again, year after year, but whatever you believe perhaps the big question is: What will you do?
I like the thought of the wise men arriving late for the party because I can imagine them stopping many times on their journey to help people like Samaritans in the well known parable. People from the East always seem to be late for meetings, but God gave us time and people made the clock. It’s OUR Nativity that makes them late because in Matthew’s story there are no shepherds to be the first — and no journey to Bethlehem for Mary or a stable. Don’t like that story, do you?
There are two sides to every story, but we had better do something quick because we can’t sit on the fence for ever pondering the truth and standing in the middle of the road isn’t an option. That’s a dangerous place to be so do something about it rather than standing in the chaos too frightened to move.
At this point of my reflection this morning I looked out of the window to notice how gloomy and depressing it was. This was 2021. Much the same as 2020, but I had opened the curtain, looked out of the window and seen what a wonderful world can look like. I know it can be the same again because I have seen it. It was created good and can be good again. The day started brightly and it can be bright again.
That is the story to take from Christmas and into the New Year because Jesus Christ is born to save the world God loves so much. Whether we are like shepherds in the nearby fields or wise men from far we are living, like then, in a darkness that is overwhelming us and God uses angels, stars and dreams to encourage us to find the light of hope.
The Nativity story we know so well is woven together from two stories, but has that common thread of bringing people together to see that Love was born at Christmas to show how God is with us in our darkest hours. The different stories come out of the same context of what is prevailing when Jesus is born and Matthew captures that with another dream of God intervening…..
Matthew 2: 13-18
Back to Louise Armstrong: “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know and I think to myself: What a wonderful world.” That wonderful world will be found if we seek it as shepherds or wise men, or deliver it like Mary, or encourage it like Joseph or proclaim it like angels. We can’t hide under the duvet in fear of what is to come this year because we are the light with the good news to share.
God doesn’t send us the darkness by causing all the pain and suffering, but comes into our grief and fear by sending his Son to save the world. We don’t try and fix something that isn’t broken so there had to be something to save the world from. It was, and IS, people like Herod and how they are hurting God’s wonderful world with their lust for power and fear of losing control.
The respected journalist and broadcaster John Humphrys recently wrote about how he lost any faith he had when, as a young man, he watched weeping miners digging through a mountain of coal waste for the bodies of their children who had been crushed to death when a coal tip crashed on to their school in the village of Aberfan in 1966.
He could not reconcile the Christian belief in a merciful God with the “hideous death of innocent children and a lifetime of suffering for their blameless parents.”
I remember 1966 for England winning the World Cup when I was among the crowd on a July afternoon at Wembley and forgot how 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives in the October of that year. A lot of people, no doubt, asked the same question as John Humphrys: “How could God let it happen?”
It is a question constantly being asked in different parts of the world as innocent children are the victims of the greed and pride of adults who resort to brutality and cruelty to maintain their power. I saw it last week in pictures from the Yemen, but we see it every year.
“Voices are heard weeping in great mourning. Mothers weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”
It is into that context that the Christ child is born. The world is a dark, depressing place when Jesus is born to save it and God wants us to seek and find the hope not wait in the darkness to be overwhelmed by loneliness, fear and depression.
God didn’t build the mountain of coal waste that crushed the lives of so many children. God didn’t make the plastic bags and wrappings that we throw away and choke the life out of earth; or pollute the air with fumes that kill young children; or chop down forests for people to profit from what the wood can produce. People create the darkness and God gives the light so we can see what is good!
God didn’t plan for the wise men to stop and ask Herod for directions because they were given a sign to trust and follow. I suggest they didn’t trust they were in the right place when the star stopped over the insignificant town of Bethlehem so went seeking guidance from within a palace. When we don’t trust God’s amazing signs WE bring darkness to the world and can cause so much suffering.
We can read two Christmas stories, or a tale of two Nativities, but in them both is the one hope to share that God is love and where true love is, God himself is there. It’s because of that love that Jesus was born to save the world, not condemn it, and that’s the Truth found in the different stories so I hope you see what I see as you open the curtain on a new year…. Amen.